Safety Advisories

Nick Kyonka

Of 22,000 accidents on provincial roads last year, not a single infant was hurt due to a malfunctioning car safety seat, says OPP Sgt. Cam Woolley. The findings by Ontario police run counter to research released this week by Consumer Reports, which found many popular brands of car safety seats were not capable of keeping kids safe in high-speed crashes.

"We've had no documented cases of any sort of failures that the Consumer Reports are worrying about in the past decade," insisted Woolley, of the highway safety division. "We've had zero cases of design defects with these seats like these people are warning about."

The U.S. product research group released the scathing evaluation of car safety seats late Thursday. They found many of the most popular U.S. brands do not live up to the same standards that vehicles must, putting infants at high risk. "One of the biggest eye-opening things here is that we don't want a situation where the vehicles have to withstand crashes at certain speeds and car seats can't withstand those same crashes," said Kim Kleman, deputy editorial director. "What our report tries to do is test the performance gaps between vehicles sold in the U.S. and car seats sold in the U.S."

In Canada and the U.S. – where infants are required to sit in their own safety seats when riding in cars – the seats have been government tested to ensure they could withstand a frontal crash at 48.3 km-h.

Vehicles, meanwhile, are required to pass tests proving they could endure frontal crashes at 56.3 km-h and side crashes at 61.2 km-h.

Consumer Reports tested American car seats at the same standards as the vehicles and found that of 12 seats, only two were able to keep a child safe in an accident. Of the two seats that passed, one was made in England and complied with European Union regulations, which test for higher speed frontal- and side-impact safety.

The Britax Cosy Tot seat manufactured and sold in Europe, however, has an additional foot attachment that reaches to the ground below the car seat, helping to stabilize the infant seat in an accident. Its American counterpart does not have the extra foot and did not perform as well during the tests.

Also noted were the poor results found when using a specified system for keeping the seats in place. Known as the LATCH system in the U.S., and the Universal Anchorage System in Canada, the special safety seat attachment was found to keep seats in place worse than seat belts.

Officials at Transport Canada do not feel there is a need to improve testing, but are evaluating the usefulness of side-impact testing.

"Our testing is extremely good. The car seats that are out there that comply to the Canadian standards are extremely good at protecting children," said Barbara Baines, a defect investigator for children's restraint systems. "The seats that are out there in Canada, as long as they're used as per the manufacturer's instructions and it's the appropriate seat for that child, they're going to provide great protection for the child."

In Ontario, safety activists and police alike reiterated the agency's sentiments, adding the report may cause more harm than good.

"I think it's irresponsible to issue the report in the manner that they did," said Ontario Safety League president Brian Patterson. "It's likely to confuse the public at a time when they were moving towards increased compliance, increased use of safety seats and increase awareness of car seat safety issues."

Woolley noted that child safety seats could still pose a problem when they aren't installed properly, as recent OPP safety checks reveal most aren't. "We don't want people to lose confidence in child seats because in the real world, the negative results have always been from improper use or no use."

For their part, Consumer Reports said their report should not dissuade either American or Canadian parents from using car safety seats for their children.

"We're not saying abandon your car seat. Any car seat is better than no car seat," Kleman said. "A parent believes a baby is the most-protected person in the vehicle, but when your car seat can't withstand the same crash that your car can then your baby is actually the least protected person."

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